The crowds at Made in America 2019

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The city and organizers are planning to forge ahead with Made In America this weekend, even as areas around the Ben Franklin Parkway remain underwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

“Made in America is still on schedule as the build-out on the Parkway has not been significantly impacted despite the storm and severe flooding along the Schuylkill River,” city spokesperson Kevin Lessard said via email. “We will know more about transportation and accessibility to the Parkway once the floodwaters recede.”

Managing Director Tumar Alexander said Tuesday that “construction is ongoing” on the Ben Franklin Parkway despite some traffic issues. Floodwaters on the Vine Street Expressway receded overnight, but a large portion of Center City artery remained submerged in water as of Friday morning. City crews are using hoses to pump standing water back into the river around the clock.

In an email, festival organizers said, “Made In America is happening this weekend.”

COVID protocols will be in full effect at the festival’s comeback this year.

Jay Z’s two-day music extravaganza is in its 10th year, though this is only the ninth festival to take over the Ben Franklin Parkway for Labor Day weekend. Last summer, MIA organizers joined somewhat-reluctant show producers around the country to cancel the party, despite  the pandemic’s summertime lull.

Philly is recording more than double the number of new daily COVID cases than at this time last year. There are also more than double the number of COVID patients in city hospitals, compared to the start of September 2020.

But with three vaccines in circulation, a city mask mandate for outdoor events over 1,000 people, and other health safety protocols in place for the event, the Live Nation/Roc Nation-produced show will go on.

For city resident Joshua Clements, that’s great news.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a minute now,” the 24-year-old said. “I got my tickets a month ago. It’s gonna be a big release for me to finally be able to jump around and listen to all my favorite music again, live.”

Still, he agreed with every past and future festival goer who spoke with Billy Penn that the mask mandate was unenforceable.

A Live Nation representative told The Inquirer ticket sales are on track to reach as many as 60k guests.

Saadiq Stewart of Mantua said he hasn’t missed a Made In America since it launched. “I remember when it was first being rolled out,” he said. “It was just a really interesting idea… That they’re going to have all of these people up the street from my house.”

The 34-year-old said he normally scores free VIP admission and never uses the entrances designated for gen pop. Stewart said he wasn’t even aware of the festival’s COVID protocols.

Told about the mask mandate, he called it “laughable,” adding, “It’s not like [the staff] can touch you. Nobody’s going to listen.”

In addition to masking, Made In America’s pandemic precautions include:

  • All guests must be either vaccinated or present a negative COVID test received within 48 hours of attending the festival
  • Concession vendors will be double-masked
  • There are no designated smoking areas

Lollapalooza in Chicago made headlines as one of the first major festivals to take place at this stage in the pandemic. It ran from July 29 to Aug. 1 and saw an estimated 385k people over four days. Two weeks after the event, the local health commissioner said there was no evidence that the music fest was a super-spreader.

Chicago health officials found that 90% of the attendees were vaccinated, and only 203 of the total had tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks later. Unvaccinated attendees were four times more likely to test positive, but no one was hospitalized or died after attending the festival, according to Chicago.

Lollapalooza, also produced by Live Nation, had requirements similar to MIA: either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test obtained within 72-hours of attending the festival.

With tens of thousands of attendees, there’s always a line to get through the gates, so festival organizers are using the Clear app, a tool that allows ticket holders to upload their vaccination card or proof of negative test ahead of time to gain entry through designated “fast lanes.”

Clear is only available for attendees 18 and over and people with smartphones. Everyone else has to bring their verifications in-person.

Rapid testing will also be available on site, with a negative test good enough to get people through the gate. Organizers said they expect those lines will be long and encouraged guests to use the app if possible.

Made in America 2017 Credit: Photo A. Ricketts / VISIT PHIL

Will people actually keep face coverings on once inside?

Clements, who will attend for the third time, said he used to be employed at Penn’s Landing and has worked festivals there. He thinks staffers aren’t being paid enough to incentivize them to do the difficult work of enforcing mask wearing in a party atmosphere.

“I’m sure,” he said, “they’re not going to be doing that.”

Jana Fleishman, Roc Nation executive vice president, said via email that security will be on the grounds to enforce mask wearing, which she said is required at all times except when eating and drinking. Fleishman did not provide details regarding what, if anything, would happen to attendees who failed to follow the rules.

For Imani Abdus-Saboor and Phil Singleton, an engaged couple living in Germantown, the caliber of the Made In America lineup coupled with its affordability is usually unbeatable. They’ve attended every festival since 2012. Singleton said he was even at the Art Museum steps when Jay Z was joined by homegrown artists like Freeway to announce the first one.

“I don’t think you could beat a two day festival for $100,” Singleton said.

“That’s literally unheard of,” Abdus-Saboor agreed. The eclectic lineup has allowed them to see bands like Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, and Coldplay alongside Jay Z, Rihanna and Future, a variety she said wouldn’t have been accessible otherwise.

But the 29-year-old couple isn’t going this year.

COVID is too big a risk for Abdus-Saboor, she said. Singleton called the festival’s mask mandate, “Zero-percent enforceable.”

“On any given day, there can be like, what, 50,000 festival goers?” he said. “There’s no way, especially as big as the crowds get at the [main stage]. What are they going to do, wade through all those people and tell people to put their mask on?”

Singleton said he reconsidered attending after learning of the vaccine or negative test requirement, but still decided not to. For Abdus-Saboor, it was a non-issue.

“Even if you are vaccinated, I just can’t couldn’t imagine myself being surrounded by that many people again,” Abdus-Saboor said. “For me, it wasn’t even a thought. Like, even before the lineup came out, I was like I’m for sure just not going.

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...